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Entertaining angels

by on September 7, 2015

3679162741_679d0d4c51Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.        Hebrew 13:2

There is an openness called for in the gospel, an openness to the outside world that is the opposite of the kind of fortress mindset we Christians can tend to slip into. It’s an openness best expressed in the practice of hospitality towards outsiders and strangers. Inviting new people into your home, making yourself vulnerable and exposed, a welcoming not a defensive stance – Scripture insists on it.

Why?  Because of the basic gospel reality that God has come to us from outside.

If we were Hindu we might say God is found within, and so retreat to a monastery would make sense. The outside world is a distraction. But we are Christian. God comes to us from the wilderness. He comes as a poor man who has nowhere to lay his head. He came to Abraham as three visitors whom he’d never seen before: strangers who turned out to be angels. The way Genesis tells it, it was God himself speaking with Abraham over the meal of fattened calf and milk curds (Genesis 18) – though of course Abraham didn’t know this at first:

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  He looked up and saw three men standing near him…

Somehow Israel developed the opposite mindset. They thought they had God contained in the Most Holy Place, barred off behind several levels of barrier in their temple. God needed protecting from the pollution of the outside world. This was why the temple authorities shut the doors on the apostle Paul in Acts 21: they feared he had brought dirty Gentiles into the temple to defile it. And so the gates clanged shut on him, never to re-open. It’s the last sight we get of the temple in Acts: from here the action moves on, away from Jerusalem, away from Judea, across to Europe and Rome. The Jerusalem temple is left far behind as God’s purposes lead elsewhere.

It turns out that when the temple authorities shut those gates, God was on the outside. They thought they were keeping out a threat: really it was Yahweh they were shutting out. He was the one saying “Paul, I am sending you far away to the Gentiles.” The authorities sidelined themselves.

Because God does not live in our sanctuaries. He will not be contained. You can’t bottle him. When God comes to us, he comes from outside ourselves and our systems and organisations. He comes in unexpected and surprising ways: as the hungry and naked man, needing help; as the stranger who knows no one. He comes as the awkward person who seems like they will never quite fit in. He comes as Jesus.

That’s why this stance of openness is so essential for Christian believers. If we are scared of the world around us and bar ourselves off from it – if we live protected lives, safe from the errors and evils of the world, then we will shut out God, just as surely the temple authorities did in Jerusalem. We will close out Jesus from our lives. Because he comes from outside.

From → General

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